Spokesman: Rilling will let mosque suit take its course

A spokesman for Democratic mayoral candidate Harry Rilling said Wednesday Rilling would let the mosque lawsuit take its course.
A spokesman for Democratic mayoral candidate Harry Rilling said Wednesday Rilling would let the mosque lawsuit take its course.

NORWALK, Conn. — A spokesman for Democratic mayoral candidate Harry Rilling released a statement late Wednesday about Rilling’s stance on the suit filed against the city by Al Madany Mosque.

The statement came in response to a growing number of people demanding to know whether Rilling, if he is elected, would end the city’s fight against the suit and allow the mosque to be built.

“Even though he never voted to approve the Mosque’s application, given the situation now facing the city, Harry, if elected, would follow the court proceedings carefully but let the lawsuit take its course,” said the statement released by spokesman Kevin Coughlin.

Coughlin’s statement pushed back against detractors who claim Rilling is a supporter of the mosque proposed for Fillow Street in West Norwalk.

Coughlin said that, despite misstatements by others, “Harry Rilling has not had anything to do with the mosque approval. He was not on the Zoning Commission when the mosque was voted on.

“As mayor, Harry will work with both sides when zoning issues like this arise so that issues don’t have to go to federal court where Norwalk’s taxpayers have to pay thousands of dollars to high-priced attorneys and leave the city liable to be sued for millions of dollars,” the statement said. “Harry will be a mayor that shows leadership in issues like this so that stakeholders will be brought together and solutions can be found that satisfy both parties.”


21 responses to “Spokesman: Rilling will let mosque suit take its course”

  1. M Allen

    I would like to make a statement as well: I too will watch the court proceedings carefully but let the lawsuit take its course. Because as a citizen, all I can do is watch and hope for the best. But as Mayor, he may need to do more than just watch like the rest of us. Like maybe give orders to the city attorneys or the attorneys we are paying thousands of dollars to. Because you know, as chief executive, you aren’t just a spectator. But I’m glad he responded.

  2. The Other Harry

    “Take it’s course”? What a cop out. If you don’t push the case, keep the attorney in place, fight every motion, you lose.

  3. Daisy

    well, good for Harry – looking for credit for something he has no control over anyway – but an issue that works against him.

  4. LWitherspoon

    “Harry, if elected, would follow the court proceedings carefully but let the lawsuit take its course”
    What exactly does “let the lawsuit take its course” mean? How are ‘following court proceedings carefully’ and ‘letting the lawsuit take its course’ opposed to eachother such that they are joined with a ‘but’? We shouldn’t have to parse vague statements such as this one. I am disappointed with the ongoing lack of specifics from the Rilling campaign.

  5. Ark

    I guess he cares so little and wants so much distance that Harry could not even bother to issue his own statement. So instead we get comments from a campaign flunky. Even then, no assurance Rilling will defend the suit or protect the neighborhoods. Be honest, Harry is pro-mosque but won’t say it.

  6. Eric Shun

    Why not build the Mosque on the site where they proposed BJ’s? It is big enough and can handle the volume. Just a thought.

  7. Suzanne

    To one and all: Rilling is not the mayor. He cannot “push the case” nor order attorneys around. He cannot fight every motion. He has no standing to do such things. That he is watching the case proceed is the only option at this stage. It still “niggles”, though, that he accepted a campaign contribution from the spokesperson for the Mosque’s legal efforts.

  8. Joe Espo

    Clintonian double-speak. “…(L)et the law suit take its course.” means what? What “course” will Harry have the law suit take if he’s elected? Will he allow the lawyers to set the “course” toward a vigorous defense and any necessary appeals to stop the mosque? Or will he succumb to the influence of the Al Madany campaign contribution and direct the lawyers to put the case on a “course” toward settlement with damages, lawyers fees and reversal of the Zoning Commission’s application denial?
    If Harry wins the election, his first order of business would be to fire the incumbent corporation counsel AND then pack the Zoning Commission with his replacement and other mosque-supporting appointees as a big “thank you” for the Al Madany contribution. Do you REALLY think that Harry is going to REFRAIN from having his newly packed zoning commission reconsider the issue? And do you REALLY think that Harry is going to REFRAIN from directing his new corporation counsel to stop the litigation?
    To paraphrase another politician with equally dubious intent: if he’s elected, Harry will FUNDAMENTALLY TRANSFORM the city of Norwalk… and the character of West Norwalk…for the worse.

  9. Isabelle Grant

    Here’s the key point that everyone seems to be missing: “Norwalk’s taxpayers have to pay thousands of dollars to high-priced attorneys and leave the city liable to be sued for millions of dollars” Commit it to memory.

    The mosque supporters aren’t really suing the city for discrimination. They are suing the City because Federal law restricts how municipal governments can regulate land use by religious organizations. Local zoning laws can’t “burden” the practice of religion. All the mosque-goers have to show to win is that their First Amendment rights to practice their religion are being restricted by denying the mosque. They have a strong case.

    This is probably why the attorney that Moccia fired told the zoning commission and advised them to settle. Mayor Moccia is using a group right wing attorneys to challenge the constitutionality of the law. That’s going to fail. The Second Circuit has upheld the law several times.

    Moccia is trying to argue that the lawsuit doesn’t belong in federal court because the mosque people could have asked for a smaller mosque at the same location. That’s not going to work because the Zoning Commission had the opportunity to give them that (whether they were in agreement or not) but instead voted for a resolution for out and out denial. Going to the same zoning commission would be futile for the mosque goers.

    Unless the law suit settles Norwalk could owe millions of dollars for the mosque folks attorneys and that’s in addition to paying our own lawyers who will suck this city dry.

    The way I see it “letting the lawsuit take its course” is a recipe for disaster. It will cost Norwalk taxpayers millions. I would be in support of Harry settling the lawsuit just like the city’s lawyer recommended we do.

  10. Maria Rodriguez

    Enough is enough. I live in West Norwalk and I am in favor of Muslim Norwalkers having place of worship in this neighborhood. Those who are opposed are simply practicing a form of racism.

    Suzanne, you say it “niggles” you that Rilling accepted a donation from a Norwalk resident who gave him a donation. Do we know why Mr. Memon gave the donation? Maybe he thinks Harry is a better candidate because he will create a Norwalk with less crime. Or maybe he agrees with Rilling that he is against big-box stores. The point is that you don’t know. And so what if he is the spokes person of the mosque and gave Rilling a campaign contribution for that reason? Isn’t he allowed to participate in democracy? As Mark Chapman pointed out the real estate developers and garbage haulers have given thousands to Moccia and no one has objected. That is because it’s all part of the game. It’s all public. What we expect from Moccia and Rilling is that they make decisions on the merit. If that means privatizing garbage collection to save $17 million OK. If that means settling a lawsuit because it violates Federal laws OK.

    Espo, you have exhibited through your comments that you are opposed to a mosque of any size being in the neighborhood. Like it or not it will be built. The pictures that I have seen are beautiful. Will it change the neighborhood? Absolutely. But that’s the way life is. If the neighbors wanted something different they should have purchased the property. If you don’t like it you can move. I on the other hand hope there will be activities at the mosque that will enhance the neighborhood.

  11. M Allen

    @Maria – Seriously, you’re going to toss the race/reglion card at anyone opposed? Because with that your credibility is shot. There may very well be some idiots out there who think that way and are voicing opposition because they are ignorant. They are pretty much balanced by the people who think any opposition is over discriminitory purposes and racism. The vast majority of people who oppose the mosque do so on size and scope and traffic. They would be more than willing to accept a scaled down version. You really need to get a better grip on the details and not just spout that garbage.
    @Isabelle – the zoning commission can only approve or deny an application. They cannot modify an application and grant approval. The developer was always able to modify their proposal. They chose not to do that. Rather, the chose to take the denial to court on the grounds that it was denied due to bias. They could come back today and modify, but that isn’t their plan. They want to go the legal route. So be it.

  12. M Allen

    @ Isabelle – please help me get this straight. An application gets denied for actual zoning reasons. Instead of modifying the plans to suit the site, the applicant decides to sue based on religious discrmination. You’re saying we should drop the suit because it may cost the city millions of dollars? Not because we actually violated their rights. Is that correct?
    Or are you saying that we did in fact violate their rights because the law says a religious organization can build anything it wants on a site, no matter the size?

  13. Suzanne

    Maria Rodriguez, I live in West Norwalk, too, and I would not deny Muslims the right to worship here, ever. In fact, I think it would enhance the community. What the proposed plans would NOT do however is make the dangerous intersection at the base of the property any safer or reduce the size and scope of the plans so that it makes sense based on the scale of the property and the neighborhood. As M Allen points out, the developers could have modified the plans and suggested traffic/parking remediation that would truly be viable. They did not. For the size and scale of mosque they want, I believe the Muslim community would be wise to move their plans to an area or building, like the church on West Avenue sitting vacant, that could accommodate them. As to the large donations given to Moccia by associates of City Carting, the Seligsons, Spinnaker, etc., I happen to believe it HAS bought influence and for a whole host of reasons was bad for the Town of Norwalk. Likewise, it would have been better if Rilling had not accepted the donation based on the precedent setting influence that these kinds of donations have in this town. Of course, this can’t be proven but it is troubling to me. Enough is enough when it comes to “playing the race card” and it is fundamentally ignorant to believe that is why the neighborhood objects to a mosque on Fillow Street. You really ought to do a bit more reading on the threads that discuss this development before commenting further along these lines, neighbor.

  14. Maria Rodriguez

    People in the majority find it easy to delegitimize valid objections to racism as a “card” instead of admitting that their beliefs and actions are the ones that are really abhorrent. Here is what I have gleaned from my own reading and research:

    1. The mosque group tried numerous time to meet with the neighbors in the condominium associations in order to work with them and figure out what would be the mutually acceptable size of the project. At every opportunity their offer to meet was rejected. The condo boards simply did not want to meet and declare what would be the size that would be acceptable.

    2. The zoning commission DOES have the authority to modify a project or opened a doorway to this in their resolution. But that’s not what happened.

    3. The size of the mosque’s worship space determines the number of parking spaces it needs to have. These are determined by the Zoning Commission’s regulations. The mosque met this requirement.

    Everyone keeps on saying that they have no objection to a mosque — just not at that particular site. But the mosque association has met all the requirements that are in the book. But the people here are coming up with all sorts of other objections. It may be that it is subjectively out of proportion but they meet all the rules. The rules have to apply equally to all houses of worship. If the rules are wrong then they have to be changed and that where people should be concentrating their efforts. As for the mosque they are doing what they are allowed to do.

  15. Suzanne

    What they are allowed to do does not mean either appropriate or good for the neighborhood’s density or traffic. Other houses of worship in the area, the Catholic Church, the Jewish Temple, the Congregationalists, far exceed the number of acres that the mosque has purchased to accommodate their various ways of worship. Even with that, the Temple routinely has police on duty to conduct traffic on high holy days. I think the mosque development is equivalent to BJ’s development in that it is not a bad idea, just the wrong dwelling for the location adjacent to the neighborhood and for the size of the lot. That is sensible, has nothing to do with the religion and everything to do with good judgement when it comes to development. It is shame you must stoop so low to get your point across, Ms. Rodriguez. You could have just stuck with the zoning aspects which are honest objections instead of accusing those of us who object to the mosque in that location of being racist. Pity.

  16. Joe Espo

    There’s a bit of hypocrisy running through veins of Harry Rilling. He was opposed to BJ’s, a big box store, because of the size and scale of the project proposed for that site and because of traffic and safety concerns. Well why isn’t he opposed to a big box mosque for all the same reasons at the postage-stamp sized Fillow Street property? And even if he feels compelled to refrain from speaking about the issue for legal reasons, he could have clearly demonstrated his opposition to the big box mosque by returning the Al Madany contribution and have his spokesperson issue a statement that he opposes the project as it is presently designed. That he didn’t suggests that he’s in favor of building it, as is.

  17. Maria Rodriguez

    @Suzanne what you or I think is appropriately sized is not what’s at issue. Every religious group in town has the expectation that they will be allowed to build their house of worship according to the regulations. Norwalk’s regulations state the size of mosque that the Muslims could build. The regulations aren’t based on land size, they are based on the square footage of the worship area. The moment you start changing the rules for the Muslims versus the other groups that you name that have benefited is when the actions start becoming discriminatory.

    @Joe the rules that apply to houses of worship are different than those that apply to big box stores. Don’t like the laws? Get the Zoning Commission to change them. But until you do all groups have the right to expect that they will be treated equally.

  18. Don’t Panic

    I believe M Allen is correct. I do not believe the zoning folks can modify. They can only approve or deny.

  19. Joe Espo

    @Don’t Panic: @Maria is wrong or misinformed about many other legal and factual issues but there are too many to address succinctly.

  20. M Allen

    Joe why do you keep saying the same old tired, misused lines over and over? I’m not even a Rilling supporter but guys like you make even guys like me have to defend out it of fairness. If we can’t win on the facts, or something close to them, we don’t deserve to win.
    Rilling didn’t vote on the Mosque application itself. Neither up or down, so nobody can say he was in favor or not in favor. I think like most rational people, he was in support of the group putting in a Mosque, or any structure, that fit the applicable zoning regs for size, parking, traffic, etc.
    Rilling voted for settling, as was recommended by the specialist hired by the city, along with Republicans and Democrats, with the except of Joe Santo, the only vote against settling. A vote to settle, while misqguided in my opinion, was not a vote in favor of a “big box mosque”. It was following legal counsel opinion.
    Perhaps he should have given back the $250 donation considering it came from an individual representing the Al Madany group who is currently engaged in a lawsuit against the City. However, by incessantly bringing up a single, piddly donation from him, only serves to bring up donations on the Republican side and make those an issue, where I don’t believe one exists either. It becomes tit for tat and pots calling out kettles.
    In the end, making issues where they don’t exist does neither side any good. Especially here where details are spelled out time and again on who voted for what and when. So why keep doing it? Argue the issues, but try and argue fairly. Otherwise it just makes you look bad. You might as well just go full “birther crazy” and say Rilling wasn’t born in Norwalk. Go for the trifecta of crazy talk. Sorry man, but seriously, it diminishes good arguments when outright fabrications are being spoken.

  21. M Allen

    @ Maria – You’re wrong on the law. BI have difficulty citing Mike Mushak as he can comment himself, but while he voted against the resolution to deny for different reasons, even he has commented that he would have voted against the application on the grounds it did not conform. The Mosque was apparently fine. It was the accessory building and lack of adequate parking that created the issues. Redo the app to just the same exact mosque and parking, approved. But they don’t want to give up the accessory building. Nobody is changing the rules on them. It would be the utter height of lunacy in this day and age to try and get away with that. I know we think everyone is dumb, but they aren’t that dumb.

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